Five Questions for: Matthew Biette

Matthew Biette, 5 QuestionsBuying local products has
become almost de rigueur on most college campuses, but the process still
presents some challenges. Matthew Biette, director of dining services at
2,350-student Middlebury College in Vermont, talked to FSD about how those challenges can be overcome. 

What was the biggest
challenge in developing your local purchasing program?

For us, “developing” has
never been an issue with a buy local program. We live in an agricultural state
that promotes its products and quality. The difficulty is coming to an
agreement. Just because it’s a local product doesn’t mean we’ll buy it. Price
and quality have to meet and both need to work within our budget. We have had
experiences where people developed a product with their own local ingredients.
When all was said and done, the finished product was over five times the price
of a nationally branded product—there was no way we could fit that into our
system.  However, there have also
been local farmers who had some artisanal cheese that we would be able to use
from time to time on special events and that worked perfectly. To overcome
these challenges, we have conversations, set our goals and work the
negotiations. There are times when it isn’t feasible and we walk away.

What local purchasing
goals have you set for your program? 

We have been trying to stay
in the 25% local range but with the current economic conditions, it’s a bit
more difficult. Recently, we had an economics course look at the possibility of
taking our 25% to 50%.  Some of
this would push the prices higher but depending on how we use the second half
of the budget, it could work.

What local products are
most difficult to procure and why? 

Meats are available but not
in the quantity we would continually use them. The pricing and availability
equation doesn’t work—too little product, too much money. Fresh produce in the
winter isn’t impossible but variety is minimal.

What are the most
effective ways to market your local purchasing program?

This program has been
engrained in our purchasing model since the college was incorporated.  Lately, we have had the opportunity to
grow the number of local producers and have developed relationships. As for
letting people know, we use word of mouth and articles. In every tour of the
college, perspective students are told about dining, shown an organic garden
and often it isn’t the first time they have heard about it.

What advice would you give
other operators who might want to improve their local purchasing programs? 

Don’t be afraid but don’t jump
into the deep end. The products need to work within your menus and cost
structure.  Just because it is
local, may not be reason enough to buy it. Location is also extremely
important. One of the benefits of buying local is supporting the local
economies and keeping jobs in your area. Some products are grown and further
processed in your area, others may be impossible to get. Certainly, I never
look for local bananas or coffee but you can bet I’m looking for a dairy, maple
and apple products first and foremost.

More From FoodService Director

Industry News & Opinion

Noncommercial foodservice operations and other employers would be spared from costly new overtime pay regulations if 21 states succeed in the legal challenge they jointly filed yesterday.

The lawsuit asks the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas to set aside the rules, which are scheduled to take effect on Dec. 1.

If the court rejects the request, restaurants and other businesses will be required after that date to pay overtime to any salaried employee who works more than 40 hours in a week and earns less than $47,476 on an annual basis.

The...

Industry News & Opinion

The new unpaid-balance policy at Canon-McMillan School District in Pittsburgh is making waves after a former cafeteria worker sounded off about the practice on social media.

Stacy Koltiska said she quit her job with the district after being forced to take hot meals away from students who owed lunch money, CBS News reports .

Under a new policy that was implemented at Canon-McMillan this year, students whose lunch debt exceeds $25 are not allowed to receive a hot lunch. Children in grades K-6 are given a sandwich in its place, and older students receive no lunch. A recent...

Industry News & Opinion

Due to low participation in its lunch program, Talawanda School District in Oxford, Ohio, is raising the price of school meals this year, Patch.com reports .

The cost of school lunches will see a 30-cent increase, half of which is being enacted to cover the district’s budget. The other half is being required by the government to cover the cost of free and reduced-price lunches provided to low-income families. Prior to this year, the district had not raised prices since 2009.

The district’s cafeterias have experienced a decline in student participation since implementing the...

Industry News & Opinion

Six Philadelphia hospitals were honored by the city’s department of public health for healthy food initiatives introduced as part of the local Good Food, Healthy Hospitals program, bizjournals.com reports .

The hospitals each debuted healthy measures to their dining services, such as lowering the cost of water bottles and seltzers, and offering dishes that incorporate local produce. One hospital was also honored for operating its own organic farm.

The facilities that were honored were:

Einstein Medical Center Philadelphia Cancer Treatment Centers of America’s Eastern...

FSD Resources